Thursday, December 22, 2016

reflecting on God and gods and a request for this Christmas

We recently went on a trip to China (for business) and Thailand (for fun).  It probably goes without saying that these countries are very different from the U.S. (especially China).  We ate lots of interesting and different foods and tried our best to observe and learn about the cultures.

One of the obvious things we noticed is that both cultures are primarily Buddhist.  We had the opportunity to visit Buddhist temples in both China and Thailand.  Bob, our business associate in China, knows some of our story and knew that we recently lost Winnie.  He had a son born the same month as Winnie, and I think our loss “hit home” for him in many ways.  He took us to a Buddhist temple in Qingdao.  It was the largest temple in the city, sitting on top of a hill.  It had many different buildings within the complex, and each housed different statues of gods. 

(On a side note, I took World Religions in college and studied the major religions, including Buddhism, but I am quite rusty on the subject.  I was surprised to see so many different gods (or different forms of Buddha) representing different things.  Many of the statues didn’t even appear to be Buddha, it seemed like an interesting mesh of Hinduism and Buddhism.  Since Bob’s English isn’t proficient enough for complex conversations, it was difficult to ask a lot of questions.  Anyway, I digress.)

One of the reasons Bob took us to the Buddhist temple is that he wanted us to pray for healthy children in the future.  He cares so much about us and wants to see restoration in our future (just like all our friends and family do).  We politely told him we couldn’t kneel and pray to Buddha because we had our own God we prayed to.  But we walked around the complex and observed the different buildings and statues and what other people were doing.   One thing we saw a lot of (or so it was explained to us) was many women and couples coming to pray for fertility and for children.  Some were praying to have children and some were pregnant and praying for healthy children or specifically male children.  For some people, this was a daily part of their routine and a high priority to them. 
A week later, we found ourselves in Thailand at another Buddhist temple.  We started up a conversation with a guy outside the temple and he told us that his wife was pregnant and they came to the temple to pray for a boy (since they already had 2 girls).

I find it so interesting that so much of religion over the course of human history has been driven by fertility.  Historically speaking, the three things people probably most depended on god (or gods) for was good weather for farming, healthy children, and protection from enemies.  Today, most of us don’t farm and are relatively safe from our enemies, but for many people the issue of having children (or in our case having healthy children) is still a huge issue.

In countries like China and Thailand it drives people to go to the temples and pray to god (or gods) to bless them with their heart’s desire.  In Christianity, we often don’t treat God very differently.  When it comes to this difficult issue we want to approach Him and plead our case and do whatever it takes to convince Him, or twist His arm, to give us our way and obtain what we desire.

I think about what all of this says about our story.  I kept wondering what the people around us in China or in Thailand would think about us if they knew our whole story.  Would they think we had bad karma?  Would they think we were cursed?  Would they think we hadn’t pleased the gods or had not performed some superstition correctly to win favor?  Would they think we had some hidden sin issue that caused our children to die?


And what about in America, what does our story make others think?  I think, at the very least, it challenges many pre-conceived notions many of us have.  Notions of control, notions of blessings for a life well-lived.  Ideas that I don’t think are rooted in Christianity, but are instead rooted in our human nature to try and make sense of the world.  Our story doesn’t make a lot of sense and our human minds are repelled by it.  We don’t want it to be true, because it doesn’t fit into any sort of story that we want to be true.  We don’t want babies to die.  We especially don’t want babies of people we love and find to be nice, caring people to die.

I guess I wonder about you, whoever you are, reading our blog.  What does our story make you think about?  Part of it is probably a strange interest in a story so terrible.  I’m sure a proper person like you would never admit this, but I also know something about the human heart, and it’s messed up.  Part of it is probably concern about and love for us.  How are we holding up? What are we learning?  Part of it might be because you have a similar tragic story and long journey ahead of you.

We both hope that part of what our story makes you think about is that a light of truth and beauty shines through our lives in the midst of such darkness.  We could hope that so much is true, although we doubt it sometimes.

Christmas is coming up this week, and neither of us is looking forward to it.  Dreading it is probably a better description.  We didn’t decorate.  It seems all wrong.  We began to think we should have come back from China after the holidays were all over. 

If you’re reading this, I ask this Christmas gift of you:  Can you share in the comments below one way our story has changed or challenged you?  Or shown or reminded you of something good?  Or broken you away from the tired and untrue way of looking at the world and at God as just someone who rewards our good behavior and punishes our bad?

I hope it has.  We hope it has.  As we walked through the temples, we saw people praying out to gods to hear them and grant them their wish.  We hope our story, in its tragedy and brokenness, shows a different path.  A path that rings more true.  A path that contains The Truth.  A path that says there is Hope even when none seems present.





Our road has been so difficult.  The past few weeks have been really hard and we expect the next few weeks will be no better.  So we ask you, as part of our community, to give us some words of encouragement to remind us that there is still good in our story, and that you’ve been changed in some way by it.  We thank you in advance for that.

15 comments:

  1. I don't recall how I found you on FB, but I will say, I continue to follow you because of your strength and honesty. I've not walked in your shoes, and I can't imagine how you must feel. I know you get thru it because you have to. What is your other choice? I believe God took your babies way too soon, for a reason. You may not know that reason until you're with them in heaven. But know that you've showed me how strong a person can be. And you've given me perspective on how good my life is, when I think things aren't going my way. Prayers and love to you.

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    1. Thank you for sharing, Kate. Your words encourage us. <3

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  2. Let me preface by saying I am a numbers person, not a words person so this may be a bit jumbled and not very eloquent.

    We experienced miscarriages and infertility and thankfully now have healthy children. Despite this I still struggle to find words when my friends walk that road. Thank you for giving me words to share with them and love on them (again, not a words person). Thank you for putting into words so much of what I'd felt when experiencing miscarriages. Your writings have helped me process our loses and given me words to help others.

    Thank you for reminding me that even if he doesn't God is still good. That is a reminder I need almost daily. How easy it is to be tempted to believe that God is not good when His plan doesn't align with mine.

    Thank you for changing my perspective on the world. I have always struggled to long for Jesus to return. I suppose I just love this world too much and have been blind to the brokenness and injustice. Your honesty has impacted me in such a deep way and really opened my eyes to how broken and painful our world truly is. I now find myself saying, come Lord Jesus come! I long for you to be reunited with Clive and Winnie. That perspective makes me a bolder witness for Christ. Thank you for helping me to love this world less.

    Please keep writing and sharing. Your openness and vulnerability has been a blessing. Thank you so very much for helping me to grow where I didn't even realize I needed it.

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    1. Wow, thank you, Nicole. Your words are perfect and such a good reminder to us. This helps me remember the reason it is important to keep sharing our hearts. Thank you for taking the time to write. It's such a gift to us.

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  3. Every time you or Rachel posts an update on facebook and I catch it, I stop and read and let it break my heart a little bit. I think it is important that I share in your grief, and I should really let you both know this more often so that you don't feel alone. You both are on my mind at least weekly. How it's changed me - I guess now that I am starting a new family soon, your tragedy is sobering to me. It scares me that it is a possibility for me. But seeing you both weather this storm has been encouraging. Like, "Here Dave, this is how grieving is done." I have a hope, not knowing how your story will turn out, that it will be glorious. And I eagerly wait to see what good God brings of all this pain. I guess, my Christmas gift to you is the reminder that Christ's birth marked the very beginning of the healing of humanity, and we are still on course towards reconciling all things to God.

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    1. Dave, thank you for letting your heart break. That in itself is such a sign of love to us. Thanks for sharing how your heart has changed and grown. Thank you for your friendship.

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  4. I have learned so much from both of you! God has used our brief meeting and our losses to bring us together and I am changed as a result. Both of you write so well. As I read, I am either relating to the feelings you describe or being encouraged by your faith. I appreciate your honesty. Grief is messy and it hurts. Our faith pulls us through, but it is still really difficult. I have been encouraged by your honesty.
    One thing that I admire about you two and I am trying to learn how to do is be thankful. I have read how thankful you are for both your children even though they were only here for a short time. I struggle sometimes with that. I think I focus more on the disappointment of not having Camden for longer, rather than be thankful for the precious 11 months that I did have him. I am learning that from you two. Thank you.

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  5. I know the Joneses from childhood in Pakistan. Like Bob, Winnie's birth and then death "hit home" as I gave birth to twins right around when Winnie was born. Even as I was in hospital I was following your story and crying out to God for you, with you, with a lot of tears. How was this fair? I believe, as you do, that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it and that death will be swallowed up in victory. The way you are holding on to God as to a life raft (as He holds on to you much more strongly than that) challenges me, who has not experienced anything like your kind of grief. I want to love the children God has given me, well. I want to love grieving people better. I want to trust God in the valley of the shadow of death, as you are. God bless you both and thanks for sharing some of your story.

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  6. I found you through a comment to Ann Voskamp on instagram. I have 6 healthy children. I almost lost my 6th, but after when my husband fasted and prayed for 3 days, her heart began to beat again. Incredible miracle. Then, 2 years ago tommorrow, I miscarried our Zachary.
    Just reading your story has caused me again to reflect on that. He would be 1 1/2 years old if he had been born full term as my other children. Oh how my arms ache for him!
    But, your story reminded me of something in the story "The Christmas Shoes" by Donna Lapierre. A mother of 2 young children is dying of cervical cancer, but she takes the time to explain it to her 8 year old son in a very precious way. She tells him, how after she goes to be with Jesus, people will say what a pity it is that God "took" her. But she says, God isn't taking her, He's receiving her.
    There is so much brokenness in this fallen world. To both sinners answer saints. But if we can see that we have a Loving Heavenly Father patiently awaiting those who are too broken to carry on in this world, to receive them into His everlasting arms, it draws our eyes to long for Heaven ourselves, to dwell on things of eternal value. Love. It's the only thing any of us can take with us.
    This is what your story helped me remember.
    May you receive an unexpected and special blessing somewhere in this Christmas season.
    God be near you both as you shine for Him in such a beautiful, broken way.

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  7. I feel more human and compassionate because of what you have endured and spoken about. Accepting brokenness and loss is nearly impossible. Trust in God means that we let go of our agenda and embrace His. But sometimes His agenda does not seem good or right.

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  8. I think of your children often and pray for you both. I have been able to grieve more for Jackson (when I didn't even know I needed to). I have healed a little more as I have watched your story unfold. You and your children have helped me to embrace more fully the negative things and see what God will do with them. Thank you.

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  9. Your story has taught me that our work here in this short life, our purpose, our vocation, whatever road God puts in front of us, is so important. We must listen, follow Him, and not be afraid of the dark path he leads us down, because He will be our light.
    Fear is not from God.
    He told us that it will be hard, but not to be afraid.
    So many times in His word He said that- this is difficult, don't be afraid.

    And if this isn't our home, if everything is not right but God has put us here to help, with Christ, to declare that he is making it right and new, then we have to be brave. Ridiculously and recklessly brave.

    I am touched and encouraged by your bravery Sam and Rachel, in walking the dark road you are on, with hope of the glimmer of light from Jesus our friend. This is your work on this earth. Hard, horrible work. And I look forward to God revealing what he will work from your suffering.

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  11. Everybody has a story, though they may be very different. One thing stories have in common is a deep pain that takes residence. Sometimes we just don't know what to do with it. But you, Sam and Rachelle, as you are walking this path with such heartache, you are still loving. You are still choosing Jesus. In the midst of this heartache you have donated to causes, you have listened to people around you, and have listened to God. You still perform your duty as a Christ leader in the world.

    When I think of you two, I somewhere feel this grief that you do. I will never fully understand but I also feel the works of Jesus that stir you. You are walking in life with a heavy heart and a helping hand. You may not see that helping hand as often as you would like, but this part of your story is changing lives. I don't know you two very well but you two have brought a light into my heart. I am confident that all the people you have talked to and listened to, you have brought some light into their lives. Not just in our community but around the world.

    Whatever happens to your story in the near future or the distant future, I am very confident that with a heavy heart, your helping hand is a lantern. And this lantern is large enough to show the world that it can. It can bring a light into dark places.

    You probably don't remember this but my family started going to our church the same week Clive passed. Your first week back at church, you two went out of your way and sought our family. You shook our hands, smiled, and welcomed us. You asked us about kids. I was stunned by this gesture and it will forever resound in my heart.
    It's these small moments that you have created are filled with the love of Christ. The amount of love you two carry, its so amazing that we have no choice but to have tears of appreciation. After all that you have been through and still going through, you still choose to love the world; even for its faults. Your helping hand will one day, indeed, undoubtedly, and from the confidence of Jesus, will become a large beautiful lantern. It will bring relief to many people.

    So much love from your community,
    Katie Hurley


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  12. I lost my first response, so if you find two from me, I apologize. It is important to me to respond to you, though, so here goes again. You know about my grandson already from previous communications. You represent Hope to me, Rachel and Sam. My family is destroyed from the loss of our wonderful little guy. I see devastation where there used to be laughter, joy and shared faith. And there you are, having three times the loss, standing with faith and asking for evidence that sharing your journey and insight has helped others. I believe the definition for that is "ministry". When you posted on child loss and the value of life, I could share that with everyone I know regardless of faith or political affiliation, because you have the authority to speak where others do not. Not even the most liberal of my acquaintances argued with your perspective. They couldn't. You have earned those stripes in suffering. Your children's legacy is one of Hope. You make me take my eyes from the earthly devastation and look instead for God's promises. And it's believable, because it comes from you. I didn't decorate for Christmas either. Three ornaments were given to me: a pink heart for my granddaughter, a blue heart for my grandson in Heaven and another friend sent another heart with his photo. Maybe I will never decorate again, and it doesn't matter, because I understand what Christmas means. Really. I celebrate that every day, because I have great Hope that my grandson is already in the presence of our loving God. And you are living hope that those who suffer in my family may one day find God's strength and goodness again, too. You give me hope that my grandson's legacy will be one that brings glory to God, not one that illuminates destruction. Your babies and story and suffering and words matter to me. I have to imagine it costs you greatly to share as you do. Thank you, Rachel and Sam.

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